Telephone and Skype may well be the most commonly used technologies by distance coaches. Through our e-coaching community however, we ´ve discovered the existence of numerous technologies that are available today and that can be used to deliver coaching over distance or to enhance the coaching process. Examples include: Covocative, ProReal, CoachCampus, JournalEngine, Virtual Coaching (VC), CAI® Coaching World, CoachMaster, TheLearnScape.
Technologies may be similar or may differ from one another, in terms of their complexity, their capabilities, the flexibility they allow, the ways in which they can be used in coaching practice. Recognizing their similarities and differences could be a step for coaching practitioners towards finding a good fit for their needs.
A categorization of the technologies that are available for coaching purposes is thus, attempted here based on 6 parameters:
- Function: How do technologies differ in terms of the function they serve?
- Communication channel: Which sensory channel(s) are used through different technologies?
- Synchronicity: Some technologies enable real-time communication and others not, whilst others provide both options.
- Feature complexity: A distinction between point solutions versus multi-capabilities platforms.
- Industry focus: Distinguishing between coaching specific technologies, i.e. designed for coaching purposes and non-specific technologies which can be used in coaching.
- Content creation: A distinction between pre-defined content versus user-generated content.
The main function of a technology may be to facilitate communication between coach and client, or to enhance the process and bridge the time between sessions. Alternatively, a single coaching platform can enable the communication between the coaching pair and on the other hand include a range of supporting tools, thereby joining these two different functions in one place.
Therefore, one may distinguish between: i. Basic media: which enable the communication between coach and client, or client-machine in the case of self-coaching. They can be considered as standalone media, as distance coaching can be delivered through these media. ii. Support tools: which support the distance coaching process either between sessions or during a coaching session. Supporting tools are used in combination with basic media. iii. Platforms: Coaching platforms include online communication and support tools, such as journal entries and coaching exercises, tracking goals, tools to facilitate online discussions with other coachees, managing appointments and often include authoring tools, which provide coaches with the option to create their own coaching modules.
Below some examples of specific basic media, supporting tools and platforms based on their function:
2. Communication channel
Technologies rely on different sensory cues that range from: i. Text: Email, text-based tools and resources, and online platforms. ii. Audio: Telephone. iii. Visual: a) with built-in voice and/or text chat: e.g. Skype video calls, Second Life b) visual only e.g. ProReal, CoachingSpaces, LPS Cocoon.
The majority of available technologies appear to be text-based:
Some technologies enable communication in either synchronous or asynchronous mode, whilst others allow both modes of communication.
4. Feature Complexity
Coaching technologies can be distinguished based on feature complexity: Point solutions are focused on one main feature, such as providing sets of questions or a virtual world for creating constellations or for visual representation of oneself as an avatar, and they can be contrasted to platforms with multiple capabilities ranging from making appointments, visually tracking progress, enabling online communication between coach-client, creating coaching exercises, to journal entries, private messaging and peer discussions.
5. Industry focus
A differentiation here follows on the basis of whether a technology has been designed for coaching or not. Industry specific technologies can be used to support clients with written questions and exercises, to facilitate online coaching sessions, to structure the coaching process and track clients´progress, to enable visual representation of the client in virtual worlds through avatars or to create constellations. Technologies such as Skype, email, SecondLife can be used for coaching eventhough they have not been specifically designed for it.
6. Content creation
Coaching technologies differ in terms of whether they contain:
- a) pre-defined materials, particularly sets of questions for all practitioners using the software,
- b) authoring tools for practitioners using the software to create their own coaching content,
- c) pre-defined materials with the option to create one´s own and save them in the system.
This parameter is used to differentiate between platforms that consist of pre-defined materials for every coach using the software, from user-generated platforms offering authoring tools for coaches using the software to create coaching modules or questions and store them in the system. This parameter addresses mainly the differences between text-based tools. Virtual worlds and constellations however, can be considered as pre-defined in the sense that, every coach using this software starts out with the same virtual world/ setting.